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Born in Houston, Texas, Nashville-based, Georgia-bred singer-songwriter, Lera Lynn's music may be hard to categorize, but that is likely why she appeals to so many. While the music business likes to wrap everything up in neat little packages, that isn't always possible. Lera's music has frequently been filed under "Americana", "Folk" and "Country." But those categorizations tell only part of the story. "I just want to stop thinking about music as a marketing campaign," Lera says. "Ray Charles went from jazz to R&B to country. Paul McCartney will do a ballad next to 'Helter Skelter,' and not think twice. The most successful and lasting artists let inspiration steer them, not genre or marketing pitch. I'm just doing what moves me as it comes."
There's a haunting voice that can conjure country legends or the best of the singer-songwriters. There's an understated presence and raw talent. There's a writer in full command of her craft. "There are definitely aspects of earlier country in there, rockabilly and Western swing, music of the Patsy Cline era," Lynn says. "I take some things from people like Conway Twitty and some of the other old country greats, and that's very different from what country is now. Maybe that's why the 'country noir' label is applied to my music so frequently. It probably should be 'real country,' or 'authentic country music.'"
Lynn's new album, The Avenues, produced by Joshua Grange, is due for national release on Sept. 9, 2014. Impetus for the recording of The Avenues developed during Lynn's 2012 U.S. tour. During that trek, she supported such notable performers as the Punch Brothers, Joan Osborne, Todd Snider, the Wood Brothers, and k.d. lang, whose group included producer and multi-instrumentalist Joshua Grange. Meeting Josh fueled an immediate creative chemistry that ultimately led to recording all 11 songs on The Avenues at Grange's Los Angeles studio. The album features a noteworthy group of players, including, guitarist Ben Lewis, bassist Sebastian Steinberg (Fiona Apple, Soul Coughing), keyboardist Jebin Bruni (Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann, Meshell Ndegeocello), and drummer Quinn (Tracy Chapman, eastmountainsouth). Grange also provided his distinctive touch on guitar, pedal steel, and other instruments.
Melodic, atmospheric, and intensely introspective, the material on The Avenues is entirely self-penned and fearlessly personal. Several of the songs, including "Letters," "Coming Down," and "Leave It Up to Me," are reflections on the musician's difficult relationship with her alcoholic father, who died when she was in her early 20s. "The rest of the songs are about love," she says. "There's a lot of love and death happening here. But what else do you write about?"
With The Avenues, Lynn has created a mature album that resolutely defies pigeonholing. There is respect and nostalgia for the past while still pushing towards the future. "Where does my music fit?" says Lynn, "it's the hardest question to answer. It's something I'm constantly thinking about, and something people ask. I haven't found an answer. I think it's sexy. It's sophisticated."
Unlike her solo debut, which was cut piecemeal, work on The Avenues proceeded as a true album project. "This one was much more focused with a more professional approach," she says. "We did pre-production work, sifted through a lot of songs and pulled the best ones. We tracked everything live in five days. Then we worked on some overdubbing. We mixed it at Sheryl Crow's studio in Nashville."
On Lynn's most recent self produced EP, Lying In the Sun, March of 2014, she played a good deal of the instruments. "It was incredibly liberating and since I recorded so much of it myself, I was able to try out all sorts of drumbeats or guitar solos and experiment with mixing without the pressure of time." The five tracks are never complacent. There's an ominous tone, often a grungy guitar lurking in the background. The title track, is her "rebuttal to music as a business," she says. "I was very inspired by the things I see on a daily basis living near Music Row in Nashville, and how the music with the least sentiment or content seems to be what makes the most money.
It may be a slightly cynical message but it's one a struggling songwriter visits often in this town." Another song on the EP, "I'm Your Fool," works perfectly as a clever take on unrequited love even though it was also inspired by "the frustrations of mixing art and business." Lera delves into the mysteries of the mind with "I Become You" and a more wary and feisty persona takes over in "Free Is Never Free." Rounding it all out is a simmering cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Fire."
Lynn's debut album, Have You Met Lera Lynn? was released in 2011. The album is an edgy collection of her songs with a convincing country sound that harkens back to the genre's glory days and has received rave reviews and numerous awards. Recorded in Athens Ga, with producer C.K. Koch the album includes; "Bobby Baby," a winner of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at Merlefest (an honor she shares with past winners Gillian Welch and Tift Merrit). The song was also voted Best Alternative Country Song in the Independent Music Awards Vox Pop Poll. (She filmed a hair-raising video for the track.) The opening song on the album, Whiskey, is one of Lynn's oldest songs and remains a crowd favorite at her shows. The song is a portrayal of a young girl trying to cope in an environment of addiction and denial. Following the album's release, she received the "Best Americana Artist" honors at the Athens' Flagpole Music Awards.
In 2012 Lera Lynn followed up the debut album with a chilling cover of June Carter Cash's classic "Ring of Fire," backed with another original tune "Don't Make Me Wait." Lera's 2012 tour of the U.S. and U.K. included stops at prestigious venues and events such as Mountain Stage, Prairie Home Companion, and the Cambridge Folk Festival. She relocated to Nashville in late 2012.
"The new album is the culmination of a life spent in music. Performing has been pretty constant for me my whole life," she says. If you catch Lera performing live these days, she may be with a band or playing as a duo with Joshua Grange on pedal steel. Either way, you'll see a natural in action.
Lera's videos have been viewed over a million times on Youtube including her latest "Lying In The Sun", "Bobby Baby" and her cover of TV On The Radio's "Wolf Like Me".
We may have to wait a while for that definitive label for Lera Lynn's music. That's OK. Meanwhile, turn it up.
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